The System: Eric Levitz
New York magazine|November 22 - December 5, 2021
Kill or Be Killed The Hobbesian logic of Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal.
Eric Levitz

IN AUGUST 2020, Kyle Rittenhouse brought an AR-15-style rifle to downtown Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the name of law and order. As protests and riots raged in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, the 17-year-old Blue Lives Matter enthusiast felt called to serve as an amateur armed guard for a Kenosha car dealership. He ended up shooting two unarmed protesters dead and blowing off another’s right biceps—without committing a crime.

Or so a Wisconsin jury decreed on Friday. After three and half days of deliberation, the jurors found that Rittenhouse was not guilty of reckless homicide, intentional homicide, or recklessly endangering public safety. This verdict was legally defensible. Yet it exposed the anarchy latent in America’s peculiar combination of lax gun regulations, expansive self-defense rights, and mass gun ownership.

These are the case’s undisputed facts. Bystanders’ cell-phone videos establish that 36-year-old protester Joseph Rosenbaum chased Rittenhouse into a parking lot, shouted “Fuck you!,” and threw a plastic bag at his back; that a different protester fired a gun into the sky; that immediately following this shot, Rittenhouse ceased fleeing and turned around; and that Rosenbaum then moved toward Rittenhouse, who proceeded to fire four times, killing Rosenbaum.

Those shots attracted the attention of nearby demonstrators. One ran up behind Rittenhouse and hit him in the head, another kicked the gunman to the ground. Then 26-year-old Anthony Huber whacked Rittenhouse with a skateboard and appeared to reach for his rifle; Rittenhouse shot Huber through the heart, instantly killing him. Gaige Grosskreutz, a now-27-year-old paramedic, approached and pointed a handgun at Rittenhouse; Rittenhouse nearly blew Grosskreutz’s right arm off.

In Wisconsin, as in most U.S. states, the prosecution bears the burden of disproving self-defense claims beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, at his trial, Rittenhouse did not need to prove that each shooting in Kenosha was an act of self-defense; the prosecution needed to prove that this was not the case.

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